Talking about faith is something I do much more with those converting to Judaism than with those born Jewish who are active in the life of the synagogue. This is a fact of life for alot of rabbis, I think, though I have never formally surveyed the crowd. But anecdotally, I'd say it's a pattern that we see. Especially among liberal Jews, the connection to the synagogue is a matter of affiliation--where belonging in and of itself is a sign of Jewishness; the deeply felt urge to raise one's kids as Jews (with the crowning achievement of the Bar/Bat mitzvah; and then it's the sense of community in times of joy and sorrow (in fact, often, more sorrow than joy. A 25th wedding anniversary will generally be celebrated at a nice restaurant; but when someone dies or is sick, we call the synagogue.) Absent from this equation is the faith dynamic, which generally surfaces amidst a crisis. Why do we suffer? Why has someone died? Where do the dead go? But again, in general, this stuff makes us uncomfortable.
Former Christians seeking to become Jews, on the other, come from a place of faith and prayer. Their religious traditions took it for granted that faith was the very language of religion (as opposed to the Jewish experience which could be land, language, food, music, literature, morals, ethics and then faith.)
In my conversations with numbers of people these last few years, I'm continually amazed at how the conversion experience into Judaism is a journey of faith more than a journey into a nation, though for some, that transition into peoplehood is equally compelling. Converts come to Judaism having had the practice of speaking to God; of engaging with the sacred through prayer; and of struggling to understand their relationship to a tradition as an engagement using the language of faith. For many, interestingly enough, their decision to become Jews is rooted in the idea that the particular Jewish language of faith--a formless, non-anthropomorphic God and a Torah with an infinite interpretative dimension--is exactly the expression of faith they were looking for. Their homecoming is as real as those born Jewish--it's just in the part of the house where it's presumed that when we talk to God, God actually listens.
This particular paradoxical structure--a formless, non-anthropomorphic God who listens--is one of the foundations of the Jewish home they build.
This morning, while running in the Park, I had this thought that in the year ahead, this is a worthy conversation to be had in our community. A dialogue among the faithful and the faithless and those who don't yet know. While it's a cliche to say there is much for people to learn from one another, I think that in Jewish community's we often don't fully get the equation down right when it comes to conversion. Meaning: we presume that (and it's not necessarily wrong) as Larry David once sagely put it, "you come over to our side." But what about looking at the dynamic from the other direction--what might those born Jewish learn and understand about the faith journey of those not born into the Tradition. What informs their souls in relationship with the God of our Ancestors. Converts, when joining up, acquire a Hebrew name for themselves and immediately become a son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah. They acquire lineage. The lineage of the first Jew, who wasn't born a Jew, but who listened and responded when God spoke.
So next fall I'll be interested in putting together a series of conversations on the faith journey in the life of those in our community. Let me know if you're interested.